In 1990s John Crawford Jr., who had been among the leaders of the West Side Organization in the 1960s, organized Faith Inc. to assist returning prisoners. It took 10 years to lobby for a bill to provide IDs for returning prisoners. In 2015, Faith Inc.’s funds were cut as part of Rauner’s state budget cut. At age 78, Crawford is seeking a role as an elder adviser to today’s organizers and social workers.
I’m the oldest in a family of 14, from Round Pond, Ark., born in 1939. My mama brought us to Chicago. My father hit a white man and had to get out of town. We lived in Jew Town, then in the Ida B. Wells project when it was beautiful and new.
I was called to be a bodyguard whenever Martin Luther King was doing a march nearby. Community organizations like the Woodlawn Organization and West Side Organization, among others were formed in Chicago. I’m frustrated because people don’t mention WSO in history books. I wrote a book about WSO that I would like to get published.
Dr. King wanted poor people from all over to come together. After he was killed in 1968, people were all scattered and some gave up.
I was incarcerated in Menard, 1979-92. It’s best not to talk about why a person is in prison; the point is, what did they do with their time there? I studied to be a minister. I’m not part of a church; the church is inside you.
Faith Inc. was born when the Lord woke me up one night after midnight and told me to organize a service to help people readjust to society after getting out of prison. When I got out myself, I had a tough time getting an ID and a job.
God led me to use my contacts from WSO, and Faith Inc. was able to get grants from the Dept. of Corrections and connect returning prisoners with social agencies who could help them. When we started Faith Inc., we would meet in Sankofa Cultural Center on Fridays. My son Malcolm is part of the effort to get these Chicago Ave. African-American businesses recognized.
I had a heart attack around 2003, and a lot of health problems since. I have a walker and a wheelchair. But I can feel the spirit of advocacy to help people stand up. The life you save could be your own. If I can say something to help somebody, that encourages me.
— BONNI McKEOWN